Regional diplomacy urged at East Sea Conference

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International scholars have called for a peaceful regional reconsideration of East Sea naval boundaries.

"All ASEAN members and China should adhere to the spirit and letter of the 2002 Declaration on the Conducts of Parties and implement all of its confidence building measures without reservation," Carlyle A. Thayer, a South East Asia specialist at the Australian Defense Force Academy, told Thanh Nien Weekly.

As many as 50 local and international scholars are participating in the second East Sea Conference hosted by the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam and the Vietnam Bar Association in Ho Chi Minh City on November 11-12.

In his opening remarks at the conference, Duong Van Quang, President of the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam, said that there have been a number of small-scale clashes which have added to the existing tensions in the region.

Quang said these territorial disputes can only be resolved through dialogues and direct negotiations among the directly involved parties "without the use or threat of the use of force under any circumstances."

"Any disruption related to navigation through this area can lead to severe economic and political turbulences in the region and the world," he said, adding that the East Sea is the world's second busiest in terms of shipment.

Thayer urged all littoral states to treat fishermen from other nations humanely and cease indiscriminate seizures of catches, vessels and valuable navigational equipment.

"If the depletion of fish stock is a major concern, all states that use the [East] Sea should agree on methods to preserve it by acting in concert, not unilaterally," he said.

Thayer said the situation in the East Sea has cooled down a bit but China's aggressive actions in the sea could change that anytime.

Thayer cited China's aggressive detention of Vietnamese fishing boats, its imposition of a unilateral fishing ban and continued construction of naval facilities on Hainan Island as possible sources of future conflict.

With an area of more than 3.5 million square kilometers, the East Sea is believed to be rich in oil and other natural resources. It plays an important regional role in maritime transportation.

Professor Stein Tonnesson of the Norway-based Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), a conference participant, urged all nations to "manage their conflicts peacefully, and move towards an equitable solution based on international law."

Tonnesson called for a briefing of all regional leaders on the laws of the sea and possible avenues of peaceful conflict resolution.

"This applies not just to the top leaders, but also to all the main leaders within the sectors of foreign policy [diplomacy], oil and gas, naval affairs, marine environmental affairs and fisheries," said Tonnesson.

He advised regional governments to initiate negotiations in a combination of multilateral and bilateral forums.

"It should be a main aim of ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] to persuade China to enter proactively into such a process, so the disputes can be resolved in the region itself," he said.

Meanwhile, Peter Dutton of the US Naval War College urged East Sea nations to re-think the disputes.

"So far, each side is pursuing only win-lose solutions... So, to move forward productively, all sides should consider ways to share sovereignty over the islands-perhaps a regional form of sovereignty. That is a win-win approach," he said.

During the first East Sea Conference held in Hanoi in November 2009, a number of advisors recommended that a temporary joint exploration agreement be implemented by concerned parties in international waters.

But Tonnesson of PRIO said joint development zones would further complicate the situation.

"Many participants in the previous conference had what I think are erroneous ideas that tension could be reduced by moving towards the establishment of joint development zones for exploration for oil and gas," he said. "I think this could increase tension instead of reducing it - if oil is found."

For this reason, Tonnesson hoped that future regional meetings would work on resolving border disputes according to the clear and precise laws of the sea before exploring for natural resources.

In July, Tran Cong Truc, former head of Vietnam's Government Border Committee, had said the joint exploration agreement option was first proposed at the 1982 United Nations' Convention on the Law of the Sea, which would allow parties on both sides of a conflict to explore international waters before reaching a long-term solution to their disputes.

However, he said international waters should be properly defined based on the Convention.

The Truong Sa and Hoang Sa archipelagos are not international waters, they are Vietnamese territory, Truc said. International waters begin 200 nautical miles off the coast of the islands, he added.


Vietnam's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has asked the Chinese State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping to correct an online map featuring nine-dotted lines encroaching on Vietnam's Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelagos and Vietnamese waters.

"The act by the Chinese State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping (SBSM) seriously infringes upon Vietnamese sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagos, sovereign rights and national jurisdiction over Vietnam's continental shelf and exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles," Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga announced on November 5.

"It also violates the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and goes against the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the [East] Sea (DOC) signed between ASEAN and China."

"Vietnam opposes SBSM's act and calls upon China to promptly remove all data and information that violates Vietnam's sovereignty, sovereign rights and national jurisdiction over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagos and refrain from complicating or expanding disputes in the East Sea."

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